What is International Search Engine Optimization (ISEO)?

Multilingual and international search engine optimization (aka ISEO) is not for the faint of heart but it’s well worth the investment if you’re up for it! I’d love to read your comments and feedback so feel free to leave me a message at the bottom of this article.

Also, if you’d like to find out the current SEO score of your website, then I invite you to use our complimentary SEO website audit tool. We’ll email you an 8-10 page report in less than a minute and I’m happy to review the results with you.

Here goes:

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the process of optimizing your website to rank higher on search engine results pages. International SEO (ISEO) involves applying these principles and many others to localized websites. Showing up high in search engines brings more visibility to your business since most people won’t look beyond the first page on Google. BTW – when I say Google in this article, I also mean other search engines such as Bing and Yahoo.

Companies often spend a lot of time and money implementing an SEO strategy for their English website but I often see that they don’t spend as much time on their localized websites. Yet, it’s a fact that developing a good ISEO strategy results in more traffic to your localized websites, ultimately leading to more leads, brand recognition, and increased sales.

In this article, I’ll provide a general overview of SEO, keyword planning and content marketing, and then I’ll describe the process of finding and research the right keywords and other best practices for international markets.

The Five Pillars of SEO

To have the best chance of running a successful SEO campaign, I believe you need to implement—what I call—the five pillars of SEO:

  1. Technical health of your website
  2. Functionality of your website
  3. On-page SEO, which consists of things you’re able to implement on your website such as keyword research, website content creation and optimization, meta tags and alt / image tags optimization, content marketing and more
  4. Off-page SEO, which consists of things you can do outside of your website, such as increasing backlinks from other higher quality sites to your website, adding your website to business listings and more
  5. Social media marketing

Learn more about each individual pillar by reading this article.

There are many components of ISEO and for this article, I’m going to focus primarily on keyword research, content marketing and some other high priority tasks you need to implement.

Keyword Planning and Content Marketing

The goal of ISEO is to drive as much high quality and qualified organic search traffic to your website as you can. To do this, you ultimately need to have a strong multilingual content marketing strategy in place that supports your researched keywords. There is basically no, or very little, SEO juice without optimized content so this is a crucial component of your strategy. But more on content marketing a bit later.

Let’s start with keyword planning: Keyword planning for ISEO involves researching how people are searching for things using Google. Then using these keywords, you start with on-page SEO by optimizing meta tags, alt / image tags, website copy, hyperlinking, etc. Basically, anything you can physically optimize on your site.

The Basic On-Page ISEO Process

International search engine optimization is not for the faint of heart. In fact, it’s quite involved and often requires the assistance of ISEO experts and language service providers who have trained resources on staff.

I recently co-presented an hour-long webinar about ISEO. In the webinar, I share the basic on-page ISEO process which is outlined below:

  • Customer and ISEO Vendor: Product Training / Set-up / Analysis / File Prep
  • ISEO Vendor: Keyword research and transcreation
  • Customer: Review and approve transcreated keywords
  • ISEO Vendor: Provide instructions for multilingual SEO (MSEO) expert/linguist
  • ISEO Vendor: Transcreation of title, description, keyword, and image alt tags
  • Customer: Review and approve transcreated meta and alt tags
  • ISEO Vendor: Review and light edit of localized web pages
  • Customer: Review and approve edited web pages
  • ISEO Vendor: Review of changes and final QA if applicable
  • Customer or ISEO Vendor: Update glossary and TM
  • Customer and ISEO Vendor: Implement ongoing multilingual content development strategy
  • Customer: Implement technical ISEO best practices throughout the site

Let’s take a closer look at some of these steps right here:

Keywords, Keywords, Keywords

Getting your multilingual keywords right from the get-go is as important as getting your English keywords right. If you get them wrong, you’ll go down the wrong path and it could cost you a lot of time, effort, and lost business opportunities; it’s that simple. I’ll describe keyword planning for English terms briefly here using Google tools.

Using the Keyword Planner tool in Google AdWords, you identify applicable keywords, download them into an Excel or Google spreadsheet and then sort and rank them based on the number of monthly search results, competition level and bid amount. You also want to see what words are currently driving traffic to your website using Google Search Console. Then you can compare the Google AdWords data to the Google Search Console data to determine which words you want to target based on the number of monthly searches, competition levels and high bids, as well as a high number of impressions and clicks. You also want to track and analyze the results to continue refining your strategy.

Here’s the link to a video that explains this process in more detail.

International SEO Keyword Strategy

Many people think that the process of determining keywords to use in foreign language markets is the same as the English process, but it’s not. In addition to using English keywords as a baseline, it also involves not just translating them, they actually have to get transcreated by researching terms in the target languages and updating the translation tools, all with the help of linguists trained in SEO. The key to transcreating English keywords into a specific target language requires native-speaking linguists who are trained in SEO practices as I’ll explain with the following example.

Let’s say one of your English target SEO keywords is “cell phone” and you’re thinking about targeting Germany and Switzerland. Using tools such as Google Translate or Deepl, you’ll find out that a common term for “cell phone” in Germany is “handy”.

Heading over to Google’s Keyword Planner tool, which is part of Google AdWords, I’ll now check for related search terms. As you can see from the example below, most people in Germany use the search term “handy” when searching for the equivalent of the English keyword “cell phone”. A small fraction of people are using the search term “natel”:

However, in the German-speaking part of Switzerland, it’s a nearly 50/50 split between “handy” and “natel” so you’ll definitely want to consider both keywords in your multilingual SEO strategy for Switzerland:

Researching and identifying the right terms in a new target language requires trained linguists who are also experienced in working with tools such as Google Market Finder, Google Keyword Planner, Google Analytics, Google Search Console and other external tools. Simply translating the keywords from English to a new target language will not work. Since your company is the product or service specialist, I also recommend verifying the transcreated keyword list with in-country resources if available.

On a global scale, Google is the most widely-used search engine so you definitely want to get keyword data using Google tools, but keep in mind that outside of the U.S., people use other search engines. For example, Yandex is the top search engine used in Russia and Baiduis the top search engine in China. Make sure you’re using data from the appropriate search engines.

Updating Glossary and Translation Memory

Once you have your final list of keywords, you should update the multilingual glossary and Translation Memory (TM) to make sure that you’re using the terms consistently throughout all types of translations and company-wide. Every time you add new terms, make sure the glossary and TM are updated.

Developing a Multilingual Content Marketing Strategy

Your multilingual SEO efforts don’t stop once you’ve optimized your site with the new keywords. Developing and executing a multilingual content marketing strategy is key to success and will ultimately get your web pages ranked high in Google searches.

I recommend you at least publish relevantly, researched and properly optimized blog posts 2-3 times a month, add relevant press releases to your site once a month and distribute them using a service such as PRWeb.

Make sure you also include social media as part of your overall ISEO strategy since Google will have a better chance of discovering your content once posted through Google+, Twitter, LinkedIn or SlideShare.

Analyzing Results Regularly

Just as you do with English keywords, you want to monitor your progress by tracking your multilingual keyword rankings using free tools such as Google Search Console or paid tools such as Moz. A great indication that your ISEO efforts are working is by monitoring Google organic search traffic in Google Analytics. As you can see from the example below, after implementing some of the above-discussed SEO best practices, Google organic search traffic increased from 3,800 monthly visits to over 8,300 monthly visits:


There’s so much more to international and multilingual SEO, and researching and transcreating English keywords for ISEO is only one piece of the process. Don’t get discouraged by the process since ISEO offers amazing business opportunities.

This article was initially posted on LinkedIn. Feel free to leave me a comment there. I also invite you to connect with me on LinkedIn and to reach out if you should have any questions!